I am not going to be Debbie Downer in this post, I promise. In fact, I've been thinking about ways in which I can transform my perceived struggles into little blessings in disguise. Let me explain.
Yogic teachings and philosophers have long referred to the concept that everyone and everything is your teacher. I am embracing that idea this week.
everyone I meet
every situation I am placed in
...represents a private lesson for me to learn and grow into the person I am meant to be? Each interaction and event are actually perfectly sequenced into the tapestry of my life to teach me something, at the exact moment, that I need that very lesson. We are subconsciously drawn to people and situations that help us grow.
I am embracing this logic, and well, let's just say I need it!! Times are tough, right? What an empowering way to move through the day. We can receive these lessons with gratitude, and hopefully, lighten up enough to realize that they are opportunities to grow, to become wiser, smarter, more compassionate, more loving.
Yes, in any given moment, we all have greater capacity to love. And gosh, sometimes we lose sight of this, but isn't the purpose of life to love and be loved? I am not saying it is easy, it is a practice, just like yoga. Maybe we could look at the yoga poses that present a challenge to us, as similarly unique teaching nuggets, little sprinkles of asana wisdom.
I hope you can join me for yoga class tomorrow morning (Sunday) at 8am (HST) which is now 10am (Pacific Time). Email email@example.com to receive the link to join, I would love to have you in class. Class is donation-based (Venmo: @LauraMary-Flynn).
The light in me sees and honors the light within you,
This weeks intention: What I appreciate appreciates.
With so much hardship all around us this year, it is easy to get overwhelmed in the stress of it. Swallowed with worry, if you will.
Let's not forget all of the blessings that we already have in our lives. Let's appreciate these blessings. My practice this week is to not take any of it for granted, and to receive each daily blessing with a humble heart.
Here is my short list: Because I woke up today, because I have clean air to breathe, a roof over my head, an amazing husband, a family that loves me, and lifelong sister-friends. Because I have a healthy pup, and the opportunity to better myself with years of education as I work towards my PhD. Because I have my health, because I have this life...and the list goes on.
I appreciate my own abundance. And this acknowledgement of my abundance will cause it to increase. What I appreciate appreciates. As a brand new week approaches, I hope to be used. Sunday, use me up.
I know that others are living in pain and I want to be useful to help the healing of others, to attenuate their suffering. Let's appreciate - our own abundance - and so that we might increase our own abundance. Because when our cups are full we can be used for greater good. So with that, week: please use me up.
Join me tomorrow morning (Sunday) at 8am (HST). Email me to join at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to have you in class. Class is donation-based (Venmo: @LauraMary-Flynn).
Sometimes when things feel hectic, wild, and crazy, you just gotta step outside and look up. It can be that simple, where fresh air and palm trees is all you need.
Take a mindful moment.
Leave the stresses, give your mind and body a true break. And then go back as you were with a refreshed perspective. One that is less inclined to have a knee jerk reaction. Where you will also be more thoughtful in your work and interactions.
Physically, your breath rate will decrease and it might even feel like you've removed a weighted vest. Cognitively, your thinking will be clearer. Emotionally, your mood will be lifted. Spirits? Well, those will feel restored. And how about that once impossible to solve problem? It will now feel possible.
Who should practice mindfulness?
We all benefit from mindfulness. It’s no longer just for the yogis, this is for corporate executives, bankers, athletes, store clerks, scientists, surgeons, your mother, your brother, this is human work.
When we approach our lives holistically from an open mind perspective, the world truly shifts around us. No matter one’s background, we are drawn to grounded individuals. And we are grounded when we are mindful.
I’ve experienced firsthand the personal growth that follows this adoption of a mindfulness practice. My introduction to this way of conscious living was in an academic course at Skidmore College. We practiced yoga, mindful eating, walking meditations, and so on. In any case, it was my very first introduction to the practice of being intentional in the way I live.
What followed was years of working in the hospital and academic research world, many years of yoga practice and teaching, and more schooling than any one person should ever go through. I’ve learned a lot about the body and brain, and the way they work together.
And as complex as my research work can be, one simple truth is that we can all implement effective mindfulness practices, right now.
1. Step outside, look up. 2. Hold that image in your mind. 3. Take several deep breaths.
Taken together, the sunlight or starlit sky, the breaths, the fresh air, the pause in your routine, will calm down your nervous system, your mind and body. Even if you can’t pause and step outside, hold an image in your mind. Make the vision as complete as you can, imagining all the sensations of the moment. Breathe into it.
In a time where we are all cooped up inside, this simple break is even more impactful. I love the work of my friends at Yoga Ed., who bring these practices to life in an accessible way for children.
I shudder to think about the unknown impacts from shelter in place orders and virtual classrooms. I know we are all doing our best, but let’s be better. Implement a mindful moment in your day.
The fall semester begins next Monday, I am teaching academic courses and I will definitely be implementing some mindfulness practices in teaching.
Personally, I crave those mindful moments. My husband is always joking with me about how I enjoy silence. Don't get me wrong, I love music, but I need pockets of silence in my day too.
Chaos breeds opportunity. Cheers to the year 2020, and the growth mindset mentality.
Happy Saturday! Admittedly, my academic year has already taken ahold of my schedule. With it, I feel a lot of stress to get things done. I know I am in good company with these feelings. Which is why I wanted to reach out to you and share what I do to spark productivity and maintain happiness in busy/hectic times, enter my non-negotiables list. That's right, my tip is to make a list. Figure out what it is you need in your day in order to live into the best version of yourself.
I have a few non-negotiables, that I know I need in my day. I fit them in, no excuses, as it is better for myself and all of those around me!
Here is my non-negotiables list:
1) morning oil pulling - once you start, you can't go back. it feels so clean and rejuvenating. ultimate reset. 2) journaling - anything, free flow, check in, let it out, inspire yourself. 3) coffee - need I say more? sometimes I do hot chocolate (yes, even in Hawaii). 4) healthy food/plenty of water - all the fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, I eat a lot. 5) vitamin D from sunlight - enter endorphins, energy, essential vitamins, circadian rhythm reset. 6) outdoor running - cardiorespiratory health, fresh air, and that vitamin D (again). 7) yoga - moving my body every day of this life, because I want to maintain my ROM and feel good, always. I also like to get that lymph flowing, blood flowing, and again, endorphins. 8) standing up every hour - typically included - 30-60 seconds of squats (true story, even at 11pm. last stand hour of the day, you get me?). 9) time with my Derek - this one, is so important. I love him dearly, but we are both busy people. we are better together, and quality time with him makes me better, period. 10) quiet time with candles - is there anything quite like a dimly lit room with a delicious smelling candle? just the imagery of this brings me inspired peace. 11) reading in bed - generally reading everything these days, I ended up purchasing kindle unlimited over quarantine.
These are my resets, this is what I need.
While I didn't intend to make this list in the chronological order of how my non-negotiables fall in my day, it ended up following the actual order. To be clear, I know I will be okay, if one of these 11 items doesn't happen. However, I generally hit all of these in a day, or at least try to. One day per week, I don't run, but I usually have to push myself not to run!
I've communicated this list to my husband, he knows this list as well. Which is helpful, because he can check in with me when I've been sitting at my computer all day and say, 'hey, did you get outside yet?'
Different from the "shift-list"
In the goal chaser series I lead, I have the students make a "shift-list" - they write out effective ways in which they can shift back into living their values. We all go 'below the line' at times, meaning we lose sight of our values in a moment (ie being short with someone) and we are reactive. It might be that we are thirsty, tired, in need of alone time, you name it.
Write your own non-negotiables list - you are that important.
Shift-list aside, I am suggesting that you write a list of non-negotiables. In other words, this is not the list to get you to shift when you need to be pulled back above the line, but rather, this is a list of your essentials. You want to check these boxes everyday - they are preventative. Your list will help you stay restored. Make your own list, because each of us will have different items.
The older I get, the more effective this list has become. It's a really helpful tool, a non-negotiables list. A composed list signifies that you know, and love yourself enough, to honor what you simply need in order to show up fully in a moment, again and again. I hope you can make a list that has you jumping out of bed in the morning, for real!
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to reply to this email and share some of your non-negotiables with me.
Spotlight Series Guest #1 - Leana Marshall, yoga instructor extraordinaire
1) If you can recall it, what is your memory of your first yoga practice?
My memory of my first yoga class was in Jackson, MS. It was a little locally owned yoga studio called Joyflow Yoga. I was terrified when I walked in. I remember when I walked in I got so many looks and stares. It made me so uncomfortable, but I went in with my yoga mat and was ready for class.
2) What brought you to the mat?
I was introduced to yoga by my doctor. I was in a car accident and I injured my neck and back. After lots of therapy, pain medications, many doctor visits, I went and searched for a holistic doctor. When I went to see him I was really sad and depressed because I was in so much pain. After seeing him a few times, he suggested I try yoga. I was very apprehensive about it. I honestly thought yoga was for white people and that it wasn't something POC (People of Color) did.
3) How did you feel before and after class?
When I walked in I was immediately intimidated. I didn't feel welcomed. I was nervous. Of course I was the only POC, but I ended up staying anyway. I could see people looking at me and watching my every move in class. It's almost like their stares were burning my skin. It was crazy. However, I didn't allow that to stop me. I enjoyed how warm the class was and I enjoyed the sweat and challenge of the class. It was hard but I refused to give up. After class I was exhausted but my mind and body felt great.
4) How often do you practice yoga? And what currently brings you to the yoga mat?
Pre COVID-19 I was practicing at least 3-4 times a week with other exercise in between. I do my best to get on my mat at least 1-2 times a week at this moment in my life. Currently, when I need a mental break from everything going on in the world, I get on my mat. Life is so heavy right now especially for POC. Yoga helps.
5) As a black female, how has yoga fit into your life?
In the past, prior to me diving into yoga principles on my own, I didn't really understand the spiritual practice of yoga. I was treated poorly in many yoga studios but I would always just sweep it under the rug and pretend my feelings weren't hurt.
Whew....now that my mind is stronger (thank God for growth) I always try to treat people as I want to be treated even if they are being an asshole to me. I will continue to be nice and kind and that's where the yoga practice comes in handy!
Mentally, yoga is so great for mental health. When I am feeling down and anxious, I do my best to try and get on my mat.
I truly enjoy the physical practice of yoga and how it makes my body feel after a great class.
6) As a proud advocate for LGBTQ+ community, in what ways has your yoga practice intersected with this mission?
The LGBTQIA community means so much to me. Often times, it's so hard for members of this community to feel welcomed in yoga spaces. As a member of the community myself, I always try to create spaces where everyone feels welcomed and included. This (and other reasons) is why I am such an advocate for inclusivity.
7) What role has yoga played for you in stress management?
Normally when I am feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, I know it's time to get on my mat. Yoga plays a huge role in helping me manage my stress, PTSD, and anxiety.
8) Besides being a mover and a shaker on the yoga mat and in the world, what hobbies do you have?
I love to do other workouts outside of yoga. I enjoy taking my mini poodle Bailey on long walks. I love being with my family and friends. I am enrolling myself into a Doula program this summer. (This should be exciting!)
9) How does yoga play a role in the way you show up off the mat?
Yoga plays an imperative role in ways I show up on and off my mat. There have been many instances in which I could have gotten so upset and angry about many situations that I have been in. But I always remember my yoga practice. (Not so much the physical but the spiritual practice). Always remembering the yamas and niyamas and how I can apply those principles to my everyday life.
I recently shared with you that 95% of my time was spent catering to my academic career. Writing, researching, reading papers, reviewing papers, meeting with students (masters students I mentor, undergraduate students, and fellow PhD students). Aside from all of this and the massive amounts of time spent conducting research in the lab, there are other details that aren’t permitted to be shared on social media and typically require 30% of my time, overall. I’ve decided that rather than strictly keep my Instagram account professional yoga business details, I am going to make it real. Much more real. By extension that means all things social (Facebook, Blog, and Newsletter) will all be more real. In other words, my Instagram account represents all of the social media avenues through which I share myself with the world.
Figuratively speaking, I am taking back ownership of this account. I will share with you the real process of all things beyond the yoga mat, which is simply life really, and frankly much more juicy and interesting. I will still share yoga announcements, but I am finding these perfect little IG squares to be increasingly incongruent with my own life.
With every passing year of my PhD program, I’ve moved further away from this perfect little yogi, who lives her carefree life, as she frolics this beautiful island. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the process (as best as a PhD student can), and I do love this island. However, in an effort to live my values, I feel the need to make a shift. I want to share a more authentic view of my life as I know it. A life in the present that looks very different than the life of three years ago. It is much more mature. It is much more scholarly. It is much more awesome.
Now, as I look at my feed, or where I’ve left it (I rarely post actual photos anymore), it has morphed into a stream of solely superficial shares. Partially, this was due to lack of time, but more likely it was reticence on my part to share the real struggle of life.
Recently, I realized that I felt totally detached from IG. I didn’t even enjoy popping in to see others photos. I was critiquing in my own mind what felt like inauthentic shares by others, yet, I look at my own shares and see that there is little representation of struggle or hardship. Additionally, what is present (mostly yoga) only comprises 5% of my life! I realized that the only way I would continue to use Instagram would be if I were willing to share an accurate representation of my own life.
When we are quick to judge others, it’s usually because we are also quick to judge ourselves.
So if you are reading this, and thinking, oh darn I just shared a non-deep post about an apple, you do you! My point is not that we should all strive for this vulnerability and be open to sharing, my point is that I was unknowingly uncomfortable by how my IG mirrored my own inability to effectively collide these two worlds (academics and yoga).
I am giving myself permission to share the details; because life is messy, hard, frustrating, but also beautiful, brilliant, and even spectacular in its mundaneness. I want to help my worlds collide and in doing so, share my process.
I want to add value. Be of service. Be a light. Be a teacher. Be a role model. And that starts with owning my own truth. It’s nothing radical or life changing, simply more real.
I no longer feel the same exhaustion of teaching thousands of yoga classes, I feel the brain the fatigue of staring at this computer. When I first became a yogi and IG was in its infancy, I was so raw and authentic in my sharing. Yoga opened my heart to a way of living that I had never experienced before and I was singing it from the rooftops, it was my own real life happiness and growth being depicted via these squares. I stopped this when the popularity of IG blew up, because it felt too vulnerable. And then I went back to school and I had a permanent excuse not to post! I told myself ‘I am a professional’ I can’t!
As you can see, with my stack of journal articles 5” thick, on most days I feel like my brain might spontaneously combust. Because I am pulled in so many directions, and this dichotomy of subjects/business was overwhelming me in its differences. I want to give 100% to each of the various hats I wear, as I know we all do. The reality is I am an academic and a yogi and a dog mom, navigating through real life struggles, and honestly ready to share this perspective. Spoiler alert, it is very difficult. But I hope to share some of my yogis tricks of the trade.
Writing the truth in my newsletter the other day - 95% of my time is spent on things other than simply yoga – I realized, it was no one’s fault for not realizing this but my own. It highlighted that I’ve only shared pieces of my life on this account with you, in a way that is wholly inaccurate.
Real talk – my academic life doesn’t care about my yoga business, and my yoga business doesn’t care that I teach and research at a University. I think my own inner frustrations at both sides not realizing this is ultimately what made me acknowledge that I have these two careers – side by side – but no one (other than my husband) knows about it!
I realized that I hold the key to making my own shift, to ameliorating problems, to living more authentically, to truly unlocking more happiness and growth.
In my teaching of yoga classes (see? I always have to specify if it’s academic or yoga teaching), I often share the struggles of academic life. But by no means do I share the nitty gritty, the daily grind, the sheer frustration (Why isn’t this analysis running? Ah there is a data entry error! Where is it? Not sure, let’s go through 1,000 files and find it.)! Likewise, in my academic life, I never fully share the role yoga plays in my life. Cue me sitting in a meeting thinking but not verbalizing, ‘well meditation would help calm the nervous system down.’ My IG account – as an extension of my life - will be that new living truth.
Writing the truth the other day also felt damn good. It was like a big exhale. Because, here is the thing, I do think these little squares can be of service. I do love the platform it offers: to share a window into our own world with a simple photo and the power of words. These little squares are extremely helpful resources and sources of community.
Anyways, thank you for reading this far. I definitely plan to continue to update you with all things yoga offerings (and there are plenty!), but I want to invite you to join me on this new journey that is much more a balance of teaching yoga and navigating my way through the world of biomechanical research. I want to invite you into my world as an female academic, who practices yoga off the mat and in her life. I already feel excited about this new chapter. Maybe I should run a biomechanical analysis of the alignment of handstands? That would be fun! Any volunteers? See? I am stoked!
Lastly, HUGE mahalo to my Goal Chasers Summer 2020 cohort for helping me realize my own potential. I am hearing my own voice more clearly, trying to practice being above the line, living my legacy, and focusing on my values. I am so grateful to these women for being a part of this program that I offer. I said on the first night of lecture, that I’ve opened this work again because I myself need to DIG IN to the heart of the matter and figure my sh*t out. As we progress through the series, I keep finding more clarity, more ah-ha moments, and more hell yesses.
I know many of my yoga students are athletes, runners, avid walkers, soccer players, swimmers, tennis players, surfers, you name it! And others are non-athletes, but active people. All come to the yoga mat to find balance in their body and mind. This blog post is specifically about the former, balance in the body, which in my opinion, indirectly effects the balance of our mind.
Let’s entertain the example of a runner. You can run and run, but if you don’t cross-train, and work on your dynamic mobility, you will ‘run’ into some problems – pun intended. This piece to training is crucial. If you don’t work to maintain proper mobility, you won’t perform as well, you won’t feel as good, and ultimately you are at risk of an injury, if not already injured.
Adding in yoga to your weekly run workout regimen, is one way to restore balance to these muscles that have become imbalanced. The type of yoga that is particularly helpful for runners and athletes is vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga is inherently dynamic, we are moving, breath-to-movement, aka breath to posture. The practice will help strengthen and lengthen muscles appropriately, in order to maintain or restore healthy range of motion (ROM).
If you’ve practiced vinyasa yoga before, you know that it can be challenging. One way we are often challenged on the mat is by holding postures (not for terribly long), but it does the job of effectively improving endurance of these muscles. Often times, the muscles that fatigue as we attempt to hold a pose, are those muscles that we need to target and improve strength and in some cases also length. Yes, a muscle can be both tight and weak.
The pose that comes to mind immediately for me, is half moon (ardha chandrasana) pictured at the very top. In this pose, we have to hold one leg and arm up in the air (against the force of gravity). The strength it takes to keep our leg lifted, falls to a gluteal muscle known as gluteus medius. When we contract the whole of this muscle, it will abduct the thigh (move it away from the ground, where it is being forced down by gravity).
How does this muscle impact a runner? Or even a walker for that matter?
Well when we have weakness in the gluteus medius, we can develop pelvic drop in the frontal plane, either ipsilaterally (on one side) or bilaterally (on both sides). Visualize the way a model walks down the runway. The model sasses her hips from side to side, this is what pelvic drop (pelvic tilt) in the frontal plane looks like!
One might say that models have weakness in their gluteus medius muscle. Although, I realize they do this walk intentionally, it is no good for functional movement. Particularly, if you are running, and thus adding more force to the movement. Depending on your running foot strike pattern, the vertical ground reaction forces experienced when running are roughly two to three times your body weight.
To a lesser degree, gluteus minimus (a muscle deep to gluteus medius) helps with keeping the pelvis level during movements. Often times as running duration or speed increase, any imbalances we have become more apparent. When gluteus medius and minimus are faced with the need to function under the demands of running, the runner might begin to have continual hip drop. This occurrence might be fine a few times. However, in all likelihood, they won’t be fine if this is felt for every step, over 30 minutes, five times a week, for a year - you get the point. Ultimately, this will stress the sacroiliac joint and the low back. A weak gluteus medius is oftentimes partly to blame for knee and ankle injuries too.
What I am saying is that, though these imbalances are often very subtle, they can become more pronounced and apparent with our athletic activity, and especially so with fatigue.
Yoga is a beautiful practice to maintain proper length and strength of various muscles, including gluteus medius. I have seen many a jock in class, who finds lifting their leg in half moon to be a significant challenge. What's neat about yoga, is that the practice quietly, and humbly, alerts and informs us of such imbalances. Yoga is a way of checking in with our body, like getting your oil changed. We need to check in a tune up car regularly, think of yoga as a weekly, or even daily, system tune up.
There is one more thing. Yoga is not therapy. It is a practice of repetition. In physical therapy, for example, you might do three sets of 30 seconds of a particular stretch. You will then do this ‘exercise’ three times a day. Conversely, yoga is a neuromuscular training practice for life. So long as you show up to your mat, with dedication, these shifts are possible. It is not therapeutic. Though, mentally it feels this way, in the clinical meaning of the word, it is not. As yoga teachers, we should not be using the word therapy in a literal sense.
As a yoga teacher, I am not prescribing, holding a stretch for 30 seconds, for three sets, three times a day. Leave that to the professionals who are targeting an imbalance for therapeutic intervention. In yoga, you are holistically, strengthening and lengthening, and neuromuscularly training the whole of your body. You need not worry about overdoing it on pose or stretch, because you are in and out rather quickly.
Here is the catch, one chaturanga with poor form won’t hurt you, but 1,000 may. You know your body best, so long as you are aligned well in your postures, and you can breathe fully, and there is no pain, you can trust in your practice.
The next time you show up to your mat, be an observer. What feels tight or restricted? What feels weak? Notice if one side of the body is significantly stronger and or tighter. If you have a mirror to practice in front of, pay attention to the subtleties of your postural alignment.
Here are some of my fave exercises to strengthen gluteus medius and minimus. You can work these into your yoga practice.
1) Lie on one side, and abduct the top thigh, bringing your ankle up to about hip height, slowly lower it back down (Repeats x5-10) 2) Side Plank (vashistasana) with the option to abduct the top leg (3-5 breaths) 3) Half Moon (3-5 breaths) 4) Bridge Pose (3-5 breaths) 5) Personal fave add-in to yoga practice – lateral band walks. Place the stretch band just above your ankles or just above your knees. Come into a squat with feet hips width distance apart, maintain the distance between your feet, and laterally side step in your squat (down the length of your mat), then return to back to the top of the mat (Repeats x5-10).
What a week. I hope you are all hanging in there. I have progressed through the many phases of quarantine life. The first week went something like this, “wow, I am actually going to be able to sit down and write my dissertation, which means I will graduate!” The second week went like this, “gosh, my back is stiff from all of these zoom meetings, and three hour long lectures via zoom; I no longer stand up to move from A to B.” The third week, was a mad rush to submit to an academic conference, and I was bizarrely productive. And this week, the fourth week, well, it was hard, in some ways.
I wasn’t prolific with my academic work, but I did cook, bake, clean, and workout. Goodness, my daily workouts turned into three hour affairs. Regularly, I run and then I practice yoga. This is standard for me. Now, I run, and then complete what I have dubbed my ‘parking lot workout’ – yes, it takes place in an empty elementary school parking lot behind my condo building.
I have this intense urge to be outside and feel the sunshine on my face, and I think this is why I became motivated to extend my run into this parking lot charade. To be clear, no one is outside, anywhere near me. It feels glorious, to be both working hard physically, and to breathe fresh air, all while outside the confines of my 500 square foot condo. And of course, the sun-drenched dose of Vitamin D helps as well. The parking lot workout consists of squats, forward and side lunges, slides, high knees, kick butt, high skipping, heel lifts, duck walks, but also lots of jumping and dynamic stretching.
After I feel satisfactorily worked, the workout continues, but the locale changes. I walk home and lift weights. And finally, I cap the night off with a juicy yoga practice. It is basically my whole evening, or so it feels. But surprise, it’s only 7pm! This week, my workouts started to creep to earlier and earlier start times. Can you relate?
Alas, the evening continues, I begin cooking up some kind of creative dinner with the groceries I bought a week prior. Who knew that all of these life modifications that we made due to a quarantine would yield so much more free time for us? I did not. I love it, in some respects, hate it, in others. I hate the unknown, the fear, the wondering – did I already had COVID-19 this January when I had the flu? Do I have it now? Does my husband have it? He just coughed…
In sum, this week, I have been a workout machine and a prolific chef/baker. I was actually feeling somewhat upset about my shortcomings in the normal sense of productivity, but I decided to cut myself some slack. As I am sure you have all been reading in every outlet, these are not normal times; of course we don’t need to read that to know that to be the truth. What does this mean for us, then?
My interpretation: it is okay to not be productive, it is okay to be sad, to be frustrated, to be scared, or even to feel grateful for the precious time you now have for other things – family, hobbies, connection with loved ones, or simply cleaning. Honestly, it’s okay to sleep more, nap, rest, or relax. All of these thoughts and feelings are valid.
As I mentioned previously, I have progressed through all of the phases of quarantine life. Initially, I thought, quarantine living fit my needs, as a self-proclaimed academic-introverted-homebody, fairly well. Now, I can safely say, I miss moving all over town, I miss walking from my office to a meeting down the hall, I miss Jacque from the local grocery store, who I used to see almost every day. I miss seeing friends’ faces, in person. The biggest adjustment, however, is feeling at peace in the present.
Once I got over my own productivity debacle, I had to put in some serious work to calm my nerves when it came to thinking about my family and loved ones, but also, global concerns. There are so many unknowns, health and financial, and it’s a little bit much to wrap your head around at one time. So give yourself the time, cut yourself some slack, ease up on your own expectations. After all, you are trying to figure out humanities issues alongside your own, that is a lot for one person to handle!
My mind oscillates from feeling this sense of impending doom to ‘wow, it’s really great to have my husband in the adjacent room – I am grateful.’ What in the heck? It is a confusing time. And it is okay, to feel joy and fear, to feel productivity in your work, or to up your sloth game for a bit and sleep more. Strange times, take some adjusting, and maybe some strange measures.
I am not prescribing sloth-ing around, I am simply saying, be more gentle with yourself. I am saying, amen, to equal part sloth-ing and producing. It is a wonderful time to learn more about yourself – your tendencies. Observe how you are dealing with the events of today. In fact, my own personal greatest insights into my handling of the COVID-19 quarantine, have revealed themselves in my journal. I shared some of the thoughts in last week’s yoga class, the theme was gratitude. This is a big cliché, in the yoga world, but hear me out.
I was looking at my to-do list with a lot of heaviness, thinking I have all of these things to do. I took a lunch break to eat and read the New York Times. I read about the outbreak in NYC and the toll this virus truly takes on you, mentally and physically. I thought, rather morbidly, I better appreciate what I have right now, while I have it. Others cannot, simply enjoy an evening run, it’s not a chore, but a gift. Others cannot, roll out of bed, get ready to lecture and pop on the computer to give a lecture to 30 eager undergraduates via Zoom, they’ve lost their jobs. My job is a gift.
I started to look differently at the opportunities I had in front me, because they were just that, opportunities. From this new perspective, they looked a whole lot more like gifts, now. And I was grateful, I am grateful.
I am grateful to the quarantine period, thus far, because in addition to doing my part and feeling as though I am a contributor to the greater good (albeit in the smallest way), it has shifted another perspective for me. It has given me a no BS attitude when it comes to many things. Any excuse that you are about to give as to why you can’t complete this work, go for that run, enjoy that yoga practice, bake that bread, walk your beloved dog, or even veg out with your husband and watch that show, LM – yeah, well I don’t want to hear it.
It’s as though, we can’t fool ourselves, and we are able to get to the heart of the matter. The juxtaposition of quarantine living lessons has me confused too, on the one hand it has taught me acceptance (of productivity, laziness, sadness, happiness, worry, fear, joy, love, and hope), but on the other, it has taught me to get-er-done, no excuses.
I haven’t fully made sense of it yet, which is why my thesis to you is, to just let it be, and learn from yourself. Be honest with your why. You don’t need to provide an excuse. It’s just you - and your - work, workout, hobbies, cooking, home, life. Everyone is struggling through this funky time, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could emerge much more self-aware?
Finally, my initial hope with writing you, was oddly enough to simply drop you a note to let you know, I have a new and improved yoga shala (see the photo). My intention was simply to invite you to join me tomorrow morning, Sunday 8-9:15am (HST), for a live vinyasa yoga class via Zoom (but of course). You will be able to see me flow in full camera view, my head will make the frame now, thanks to my husband and his technical skills.
During this quarantine period, I will be donating 50% of the proceeds of each class to COVID-19 community needs. Furthermore, as we continue the fight against COVID-19, I want to support those serving on the front lines. Class is free for all first responders on the front lines, nurses, doctors, paramedics, fire fighters, and police officers. I want to thank you all, for everything you are doing, all we have to do is stay home.
I have always taught donation yoga, and it fits now more than ever. For everyone else, I know times are tough. If you cannot make a donation, please take class anyways. For anyone making a class donation my Venmo username: @LauraMary-Flynn
It has been some time since my last email to you! To be specific, you haven’t heard from me since July 2018! Wow. A lot has happened since that time, and I mean a lot. There simply is not enough paper space to give you that type of update here.
I wanted to reach out to you though! I usually reach out over my school recess periods, but the year 2019 proved to be a no-break-type-of-year. Truly, I had every intention of reaching out to you this March over Spring Break (which ended yesterday), with a very different type of update. But then COVID-19 struck.
In a COVID-19-free world, my update would have been thoroughly optimistic. I would have told you all about how my promising research study began on Saturday, and how I was nearly done with my PhD, or at least in the “final chapter” – but alas, times have changed. I am in shock by how quickly the direction and flow of life can be altered, and oddly, it’s simultaneously a reminder of life’s preciousness. For now, here I sit (writing like an old English novelist), to bring you a very different type of update. To be clear, everything from the hypothetical update is true, less the research study beginning.
The study is currently on hold, as non-emergent orthopedic surgeries are not currently happening right now, nor would I want to violate social distancing protocols and expose the elderly to me! For these reasons – along with a myriad of others – my study will take a backseat.
I now have “free” time to actually sit and write up my research. I am working on a number of papers, analyses, and a little yoga project! Let me explain. For the last year, I have been teaching one group yoga class per week (Sundays 8am at Kaimuki Studio) and otherwise my teaching has been 100% private and corporate yoga.
Due to COVID-19, my yoga private sessions have been moved to the Zoom platform! Likewise, I have also moved my Sunday morning yoga class online. Yesterday was the first group Zoom class. After class, I shared a photo of our practice to my Instagram account, and I was moved by the enthusiastic response.
Over the years of teaching yoga in Hawaii, I have seen many of my students come and go. Some lived here and practiced with me for a few years before moving back home; others are from Hawaii, but moved off island for their medical residencies in NYC, Phoenix, San Diego, and Boston, to name a few, surely I’ve missed many more of you docs (you know who you are). Other yoga students now live outside of the US, and I was lucky enough to meet them while they were on island studying. I’ll get to the point, I promise.
After I shared the photo of my Zoom class and disclosed that next week and indefinitely, until we ride out this pandemic, I will be hosting my class online, you all began to sign up. I now have sign-ups from Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, Boston, New York City, Connecticut, Everett (WA), Ålesund (Norway), Strasbourg (France), Japan and beyond.
Point is, this was a huge burst of light in my day. Not simply just hearing from all of my past students, but knowing that you are all there and listening. I felt the pull to offer something more.
A yoga practice with online instruction, isn’t the same as practicing in person, but it gives me hope that I can stay connected to so many of you, even after you move off island. I’ve never felt the desire to platform myself online via YouTube or other streaming services (translation: I was too nervous to make the leap). Now, however, I want to. I want to share yoga with you all, in our time of need. The world needs yoga right now.
I have also been feeling the need to do something, for the world, for my community, for a cause. Earlier this week, I sent this meme out to my brother and sister-in-law...
At the time I sent the meme, I really hadn't yet done much to help. I played my part and practiced social distancing. I bought my food - not too much, not too little - but otherwise, I felt I was contributing to the general state of panic, and not much else. To be honest, I didn’t feel there was much I could do to help. I can’t simply open up the checkbook and make it happen. After all, I am a pro-student and a small (super small) business owner.
I promise, my story here will all tie together. During my run last night, I waved a dramatic hello to the bus driver. I realized, in that moment, that he was a modern day hero. I ran some more, and thought about my recent transactions at Whole Foods, because who doesn't think about food while they are running?
Kidding aside, I thought about how I had praised the cashiers and employees, for also being heroes - now I was running and smiling. I truly believe they deserve thanks for being so brave. They go to work so that we can all continue to be fed, and in doing so put themselves at risk. My small contributions of praise hopefully help a little, but I want to do more.
So finally, as I was hitting the sweet spot of my run (about 20 minutes in), I had the idea of using this online platform for my Sunday yoga class as an opportunity to give back. My Sunday class will hopefully help replace my lost income from my regularly scheduled yoga classes, which are now canceled, while also contributing to the community. Because of you, my students, near and far, we can come together on this platform and make a difference.
During the quarantine period of COVID-19, here is my commitment to you all: I will teach a weekly donation-based Sunday morning yoga class (8-9:15am HST) and I will be donating 50% of the proceeds to a local business or community need. It might be my yoga student's bar that needs to close, or my favorite vegan restaurant in town (Juicy Brew), or a community need such as PPE for our local medical doctors and nurses.
This isn’t just a health crisis, it’s an economic crisis as well. I know more people that work in the retail, restaurant, and tourism industries than don’t. If you can’t make a donation, please take class, and I hope it brightens your day and eases the stress of our current situation.
Now, if you are still reading this, first of all, respect. Second of all, if you can’t make class, here are some other ideas for you.
More thoughts from my evening run:
1) Practice gratitude: Thank you lungs, for allowing me to breathe fully, for extracting oxygen from the atmosphere and passing it off to my bloodstream, and releasing CO2 from my bloodstream and back into the atmosphere. I appreciate you so much right now. I’ve been hearing stories of COVID-19 patients finding gratitude for their lungs, and I want you to know right now (still talking to the lungs), that I love this moment of feeling your full power and health.
2) Appreciate those around you: the bus drivers, the cashiers, the husbands, your parents, your family, your friends. I know I am not alone, when I say that we have all upped our contact-game this week. On Saturday I ‘zoomed’ with my 13 best friends from home (all at once). I know you have all called your friends and family, keep it up. It matters. Your actions matter. Reach out to people, they want to hear from you.
3) Thank you, food: holy bake-athon, we have been cooking and baking and are on par to become Michelin Starred Chefs by the end of this quarantine. Let’s appreciate the simple joy of cooking and breaking bread with the ones we love.
4) Clean: yes, clean your house; if you are stuck inside your home, make sure it is clean and an enjoyable space to be in almost 24/7. If not, you will go bananas. Also, it is a fun and rewarding activity, I’ve found. Thank you to my sister-in-law for reminding me about this particularly fun and energy balancing activity.
5) And lastly, tell people you love them, because you do. <3
Thank you all for reading. Please reach out! I would love to hear from you. Also, for those of you who don’t know what I do now or what I study, the answer is biomechanics. While I am sure that answer doesn't clear anything up for you, because most folks don't know what it is, this is now a reminder to myself to update you on all that I study, in due time. I promise it won’ t be another 2 years from now, but much sooner.
“Allow yourself to be a torch, and allow the flame of your torch to be transmitted to other torches. Practicing like that, you can help peace and joy grow in the entire world.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Very simply put, I think this is what life is about, finding what lights us up inside and sharing that light. I love the energy of a big class, it is uniquely different than an at home practice or a small studio class. Did you know that at some point in a vinyasa class, the breath, heartbeats, and movements rhythmically syncopate? It’s in this space, this feeling of oneness and connection via our physiological rhythms, that we support each others growth in a practice. It might lead to successfully making it through the core workout or to a restful savasana, but the point is the energy of your yogi neighbor's truly helps and it heals.
It’s almost as though our individual light becomes more tangible, whether it's through thermodynamics, mindfulness, physical activity or some combination of all of it. With every drop of sweat, every exhale, or each chaturanga, we feel it surface more. The heaviness of the day becomes more distant and our to-do lists fade. We are present with that light. Our light. Suddenly our light becomes much more accessible and recognizable. With each successive practice, the process of digging up that light and connecting becomes more efficient.
The sum of the parts is that with a mindfulness based yoga practice we connect more deeply to ourselves and to others. We form real connections and sometimes without words. We know ‘Tom the lawyer in the second row,’ even if we’ve only practiced yoga together a few times. I love watching my students become friends and connect in their shared passion for yoga. We all leave class feeling a little bit lighter and more connected. We can sprinkle that light everywhere we go. Start with yourself, be the light, be the torch.